The visor debate has begun to really rage in NHL circles, after the eye injury suffered by New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal a few days ago. It’s somewhat ironic that the entire issue bubbled to the surface as the result of a game between the Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers.
I still recall two significant eye-related injuries from Rangers-Flyers games that actually ended careers back in the helmetless days of the 1970’s. In 1974, Flyers defenseman Barry Ashbee suffered a career-ending eye injury after getting hit by a slap shot from Dale Rolfe of the Rangers. In 1979, Rangers left wing Don Maloney and Flyers defenseman Jimmy Watson tangled for position in front of Philadelphia goaltender Bernie Parent. As they tumbled to the ice, an errant stick clipped Parent in the eyehole of his old-style, fiberglass mask, and caused him to have a career-ending eye injury.
Now, another Rangers-Flyers game has produced another eye injury, this time to a member of the Broadway Blueshirts. It has also brought up the idea of making visors mandatory.
While the NHL has encouraged this progression, the NHLPA has maintained a desire for player choice in the matter. But should we be reactive or proactive on this issue? Should we take that issue out of the players’ hands, or should a player make that choice himself?
If I were playing professionally, I’d certainly wear, at minimum, a visor. But I wouldn’t necessarily use force of a mandate to remove the choice of a player, not yet. But what is needed is a continued coordinated effort by both League and NHLPA to strongly encourage their players to wear eye protection. The marketplace of information should be enough to cause the transition to continue as it has been, as we have seen a sharp rise in the use of visors in the last decade in the League.
Today, there is zero controversy about wearing a helmet. The NHL mandated a phase-in after it seemed as if the transition wasn’t happening fast enough. I’m not convinced that the natural visor phase-in that we are seeing in the NHL isn’t fast enough, but we do need continued education and encouragement.
No one would accuse Marc Staal of lacking courage if he returns to the NHL wearing eye protection, and I hope that he does. The best news of all, of course, is that his doctors are saying that he is expected to make a full recovery, and that’s the most important thing.
Now, on to solving the next mystery: why does this particular type of injury keep cropping up in games involving the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers? I’m sure that no one has the answer to that question.